I’ve been thinking recently about my equal love for physical books and digital books.
I love the way physical books make me feel when I buy them and look at them, but I love the experience of reading digital books.
In an ideal world, I could buy a physical book and get a free digital version, like with Blu-ray movies.
But I wonder how the rising inclusion of digital books will impact the next generation?
Growing up, I could access any book in my house, even the one with the naked lady on the cover!
I was a voracious reader with a very limited self-library, a book dragon with a very small hoard, that consisted of only a handful of much-read, much-loved, and much-worn books I read and reread over and over again to the point where I could recite whole pages and passages. Since my own self-library was so small, I often poached the library of my family members. It was easy. All of their books were displayed on easily-accessible bookshelves. All I had to do was select one, remove it, find a place to curl up, and open to the first page. I read my brother’s Goosebumps and Morris Gleitzman books, my mother’s political science books (and, weirdly, Dragons of Pern books!), my dad’s science and nature books.
For ease of use and saving on space (and cash!), physical home libraries are disappearing in favour of digital libraries. My personal cloud holds thousands of books easily accessible on e-reader devices. It’s a glorious thing. My husband and I share an Amazon account, and because we have crossover taste, that means we can also share our digital library with each other.
But what about our hypothetical child?
Reading is such a huge part of my life. I read incessantly as a child and teen, I did a literature degree (for god’s sake, that’s never going to help in the real world, what was I thinking?) and I’ve run my book blog for the last 6 years.
But what would life have been like if I had grown up in a household where books were only accessible on expensive e-readers I wasn’t allowed to touch? How much would learning to read on an electronic device, say a child’s first phone with the Kindle app, or tablets in richer schools, differ from learning to read a paperback? Physical books can be read at any age: most experts encourage not only limiting screen time for children, but also putting off giving a child a screen at all until they reach a certain age.
Without the freedom of being able to get my eager hands on any book in the house, how would lacking open and easy access to a myriad of books affect my love of reading and all the benefits that come with it? (kids who read more books do better in life study).
Maybe I’m worrying for nothing. Maybe physical books will always exist, or maybe they’ll become a cherished relic while the convenience and cost of ebooks will see easily accessible books disappear from the lexicon.
But similarly, I’ve visited my library physically probably twice in the last six months – and that’s being generous, because I put a book on hold via the internet and the second time was to return it. I mostly borrow ebooks and audiobooks over physical books.
I have this horrible vision of a parent happily reading on their device while the house is empty of physical books, and a child learning to read can only access books at school or at the library because they’re too young to understand that Mama’s $400 ereader or iPad is Not. For . Touching.